Skip to comments.Part Butler & Part Buddy, Aide Keeps Kerry Running (NY Times interviews Kerry's Butler)
Posted on 04/28/2004 11:38:37 AM PDT by areafiftyone
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio, April 27 The man who would be president takes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat, strawberry jelly preferred to grape twice a day on the campaign trail. He wears $15 reading glasses, off the rack at CVS. Before bedtime, he starts but rarely finishes movies like "Seabiscuit" and "The Blues Brothers" in his hotel suite. Come morning, he leaves $20 for the maid.
Voters do not learn these tidbits about Senator John Kerry, the all-but-crowned Democratic nominee for president, from his campaign Web site, his public speeches or his television advertisements. These and other details make up the portfolio of the man literally behind the man, ready with an uncapped bottle of water whenever Mr. Kerry's throat runs dry.
Meet Marvin Nicholson Jr., chief of stuff.
"I can't help with policy, I don't do press," said Mr. Nicholson, 32, a former bartender and golf caddie who never voted before meeting Mr. Kerry in 1998. "When he wants that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I'm ready."
So Mr. Nicholson crisscrosses the country with a loaf of bread in his bag. He makes most of the sandwiches himself, sometimes supplementing with room service. An exploration of the bursting black satchel always affixed to his shoulder turns up one of those sandwiches, wrapped in foil, protected by Ziploc bag, as well as an empty, jelly-pocked bag, vintage unknown. "Kind of gross," Mr. Nicholson acknowledged.
To spend a day in Mr. Nicholson's shadow is to see the minutiae underpinning the multimedia production that is a modern-day presidential campaign. It also gives a rare look at a candidate entering an increasingly scripted and sheltered phase of the campaign. Mr. Kerry is comfortable being catered to. He has his moods and his myriad personal needs. A social loner, he is happy with an aide half his age.
Having risen 45 minutes earlier, Mr. Nicholson rouses Mr. Kerry each morning with a phone call, then heads down the hall to ferry the newspapers outside his door into his hands. He orders, delivers and usually lays out Mr. Kerry's meals.
He keeps little black books filled with the names and numbers of people Mr. Kerry meets; dials many of his telephone calls; helps select his neckties and opening one-liners; collects gifts from well-wishers; transports his leather briefcase, three hunter-green duffels and two navy suit bags; and, at night, often stays by his side until he is ready to go to sleep. Here in Youngstown on Tuesday morning, as rain threatened an outdoor rally, Mr. Nicholson had a large green-and-black umbrella at the ready.
If he sounds like a glorified valet, Mr. Nicholson is also Mr. Kerry's ambassador, spreading smiles, remembering names for a candidate known to fumble them, and reading his reactions for other aides. In an entourage of politicos and policy wonks, Mr. Nicholson is Mr. Kerry's buddy, going long to catch the football when he feels like tossing it on the tarmac.
"There are not many staff members who go snowboarding with the principal," David Morehouse, a senior adviser, said, referring to Mr. Kerry's recent ski vacation in Idaho, on which Mr. Nicholson accompanied him. "John Kerry wanted Marvin to go snowboarding with him."
Every modern presidential candidate has a factotum, or "body man," typically an ambitious Washington junkie, overqualified to schlep bags but eager to shake high-powered hands.
Greg Schneiders, an international political consultant, was President Jimmy Carter's administrative assistant in the 1976 campaign. He cites that fact in the first paragraph of his biography, even though he went on to run the day-to-day operations of the White House communications office, serve as a Senate press secretary and teach at Georgetown. Two of President Bill Clinton's former aides became executives at USA Networks and Starbucks; one of Mr. Gore's aides is engaged to his daughter.
Mr. Nicholson, who earned a geography degree at the University of Western Ontario and once aspired to be on the Weather Channel, seems a different breed.
Raised in Toronto and on Vancouver Island by an American mother his father died when he was 9 he was working at a windsurfing shop in Cambridge, Mass., when he befriended Senator Kerry, a customer. Then he caddied for Mr. Kerry two summers on Nantucket, including a round with Mr. Clinton. Asked which politician had the better swing, Mr. Nicholson said: "I think Clinton only because he plays more. Say they took a year and they golfed every day, Kerry'd be a better golfer."
He postponed Mr. Kerry's offer of a Senate internship to caddie at Augusta National, then landed in Washington the week before the 2000 election. By New Year's, he had become Mr. Kerry's driver. A few months ago, he inherited the candidate's 1984 Dodge 600 ES convertible when it was replaced by a 2002 Chrysler.
They hit the campaign trail together last winter.
Mr. Nicholson's role has evolved. He is no longer the guy who gets the toothpaste. Instead, Mr. Nicholson, who earned $45,000 last year, is the guy who asks the guy to get the toothpaste. Plenty of people are around, now, to help lug Mr. Kerry's Spanish guitar to his room and tote his Serotta racing bicycle.
But it is the 6-foot-8 Mr. Nicholson who anticipates Mr. Kerry's needs as they make eye contact across the crowds. It is Mr. Nicholson ready with a fresh shirt after a rally in 100 degrees. When Mr. Kerry stays overnight at supporters' homes, it is Mr. Nicholson who accompanies him; in Iowa once, they shared a bathroom. When Mr. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, joins him on the road, Mr. Nicholson's routine hardly changes.
And it is Mr. Nicholson who decides what and when Mr. Kerry eats, no longer needing to even ask.
"Can I have that prepared dry with peanut butter on the side?" he asked the other morning in Tampa, Fla., leaning back on the hotel bed as he ordered two eggs over easy, bacon, whole wheat toast and apple juice from room service.
"Do you have any sort of bran cereal, like Total?
"Could I get a whole banana?
"Do you guys have any yogurt? Raspberry yogurt? Is it in, like, little containers? Could I get two containers?"
That was for Mr. Kerry. Mr. Nicholson swallowed a mini Krackle chocolate bar, smoked a couple of cigarettes, then washed down two nut-covered brownies with a Coke.
"Marvin takes care of everything," Milton Ferrell, a fund-raiser for Mr. Kerry in Florida, said as he introduced him to a donor at a reception that afternoon. "He's the reason Senator Kerry is here and alive."
He and his ubiquitous shoulder satchel, which Mr. Nicholson said weighs a bit more than a full golf bag. The contents included these:
Imodium: "Traveler's best friend," Mr. Nicholson said.
Post-it notes: "We don't," he said when asked how he uses them. "I just carry them because once he asked me for them."
A sewing kit: Mr. Kerry once lost a button on his blazer, and it might work better than the staples Mr. Nicholson tried on his suit pocket.
The other night at the Atlanta airport, Mr. Nicholson was headed for the plane. His left hand stretched over two copies of a new hardcover book on the middle class, a paper bag of cookies and an orange hat someone had given Mr. Kerry. His right reached for Mr. Kerry's briefcase and one of those green duffels.
Suddenly, Mr. Kerry turned from veterans who had shown up to shake his hand. "Marv," he whispered urgently, "do you have a?"
Before the candidate could complete the question, Mr. Nicholson slipped a marker from his suit pocket and uncapped it with his teeth. Another hat signed, Mr. Nicholson followed his boss, Sherpa-like, onto the plane bound for Tampa.
Three hours later, having bid the candidate good night, he sipped a beer and sucked a cigarette poolside, explaining his front-row seat for history to a local police officer, who marveled at the constant travel and lack of time off.
"It's not like I'm carrying around 50-pound bags of rocks every day," Mr. Nicholson said. "Well," he added after a pause, "not all the time."
Yet just last week Kerry claimed to still own the Dodge 600.
My favorite line in this goldmine:
Imodium: "Traveler's best friend," Mr. Nicholson said.
Even with all that peanut butter, JFinK still needs Imodium? He really is full of it.
A social loner
For those of you out there in flyover country, thats Times-speak for a dork.
Guns Before Butter.
Hey, you were right!
This statement prompts more questions than it answers...
...and pays $1000 for a haircut! Yep I believe this PR crap!
PB&J - when people are watching. The rest of the time, it's "Where's my Beluga and Cristal, dammit?!?! You just can't get good help anymore."
"Here's the sail, lavender, and here's the board, chartreuse. Will there be anything else?"
"How much for the salesman? I get so lonely at times ..."
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